Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Big Momma's House: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - This FBI agent is going undercover... and he's concealing more than a weapon.

Martin Lawrence is the crafty FBI agent Malcom Turner, who's willing to go through thick and thin in order to catch an excaped federal prisoner. Nia Long plays Sherry, the con's former flame and might have the skinny on millions in stolen loot, and she's headed for Georgia to lay low for a while. That's enough to send Malcolm deep undercover as Big Momma, an oversized, overbearing Southern granny with an attitude as tough as her pork chops. The result is an outrageous comedy of epic proportions, filled with nonstop laughs and plenty of action!

Director: Raja Gosnell
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard, Ella Mitchell, Jascha Washington, Anthony Anderson
Box Office: Budget: $30 million. Opening Weekend: $25.661 million (2802 screens). Gross: $117.542 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; THX; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 20 chapters; rated PG-13; 98 min.; $26.98; street date 11/21/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director Raja Gosnell and Producer David Friendly; Deleted Scenes; “Building Big Momma’s House” Featurette; Outtakes/Gag Reel; 2 Music Videos; Trailer; 3 TV Spots.
Purchase: DVD | Score soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/B

Over the last few years, Martin Lawrence made more of a name for himself off-screen rather than on. From bizarre incidents on Los Angeles streets to collapsing into a comas to arrests at airports, it’s safe to say that things are always hopping around Lawrence, none of which seemed to enhance his career.

However, I’d guess he’s back on track in that respect, all due to the fairly-large success of Big Momma’s House. This comedy defines the phrase “high concept”; all the producers needed to hear was “Martin Lawrence as a grandma” and they were willing to back this project. Financially, they made the correct decision; the movie’s budget was $30 million - quite modest by modern standards - and it grossed a respectable $117 in the US.

When I saw trailers for BMH last spring, I thought it looked terrible. A fistful of glowing reviews might have enticed me to see it, but they weren’t forthcoming. Nonetheless, audiences turned out in droves to see Lawrence dressed as a fat old lady.

Was it possible that I was wrong about BMH and it possessed some spark or charm that didn’t seem apparent in the trailers? Nope. The fact that many people were willing to buy tickets to this stinker makes me fear for humanity.

In BMH, Lawrence plays Malcolm, an FBI agent who has to track down Sherry (Nia Long), the ex-girlfriend of an escaped convict. Since she apparently was in cahoots with her bad-ass ex Lester (Terrence Howard), he expects to have to bust her as well. In any case, Malcolm and his partner John (Paul Giamatti) stake out the Georgia home of Sherry’s grandma, commonly known as Big Momma (Ella Mitchell); once Sherry comes to see her Big Momma, they’ll be able to resolve the case.

Unfortunately, Big Momma abruptly departs due to a sick friend. Without BM as the bait, it’s clear Sherry won’t stay around very long. As such, Malcolm adopts a ton - literally - of prosthetics and becomes a replica of Big Momma.

A film like this can work, but it requires a few different elements. For one, the audience has to suspend disbelief; they have to accept Lawrence as Big Momma. I never did. Facially, the make-up creates a fairly decent resemblance, but Lawrence is a few inches taller than Mitchell, and his voice never even remotely approximates her. If Big Momma interacted with folks who didn’t know her well, the illusion could work, but we’re supposed to believe that a slew of people who’ve known her for decades can’t tell the difference. That’s absolutely ludicrous, and it made any form of involvement in the story very difficult for me.

However, since the film was weak in so many other ways, these problems became largely irrelevant. BMH fails simply because it isn’t funny. In fact, it’s not even remotely amusing. Too much of the humor revolves around seriously gross toilet humor or other unfunny gags. There’s a shot of partial nudity that involves Big Momma, and we also witness a serious case of flatulence that she experiences. Add to that a scene where an old man tries to tongue her and a series of other crude routines and I really found myself nauseated by the film.

Nothing else works in regard to the humor either. The characters aren’t charming or endearing, and I couldn’t have cared less about them. Essentially, BMH is an amalgam of two better (though still not great) films: Eddie Murphy’s 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor and 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire. Unfortunately, Lawrence has nowhere near the level of talent possessed by Murphy or Robin Williams, and this movie always feels like a cheap rip-off of those affairs.

Big Momma’s House isn’t a total disaster. I really liked the shots of Long in her underwear; she looked pretty hot. Other than that, however, I found nothing to enjoy about this crude, unfunny film. It possesses virtually no redeeming values and is an affair to avoid.

The DVD:

Big Momma’s House appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the movie looked pretty solid, though this isn’t an exceptional picture.

Sharpness usually appeared crisp and accurate throughout the film. At times, I found the image to seem vaguely fuzzy and soft, but this instances occurred infrequently; most of the movie was detailed and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges popped up only a couple of times, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV seemed moderate. Print flaws were minor. I detected a couple of bits of black grit and a white speckle or two, but nothing serious; no more significant defects could be seen.

Colors appeared largely solid. The film used a fairly natural palette and the hues were distinct and well-saturated without any signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels seemed reasonably deep and dark, and shadow detail presented an image that was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Ultimately, Big Momma’s House showed no real failings, but it wasn’t a picture that stood out from the crowd.

Similar comments apply to the movie’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This mix stayed heavily concentrated in the front speakers, and even then I heard mainly music from the side channels. The score and the movie’s many songs spread quite nicely to the sides; the stereo separation was excellent and these tunes created a broad image. Effects placement seemed more limited. At times I heard various sounds from the sides, but this didn’t occur with any great frequency, and the overall impression was of fairly centralized sonic placement. The surrounds received only minor usage. These speakers provided some decent general ambiance and occasionally became more active - the thunderstorm scene added a nice dimension to the track - but for the most part they remained pretty passive.

Audio quality appeared very solid. Dialogue came across as warm and crisp; speech displayed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were similarly clean and distinct, and they showed no distortion. Since the soundtrack’s songs featured so prominently in the film, it’s good to note that the music fared best. The tunes always appeared clear and bright and they displayed good dynamic range as well. The mix featured some pretty deep bass at times, and the songs showed off this capacity. As a whole, the soundtrack of Big Momma’s House functioned appropriately for this sort of film, but it did nothing special.

Big Momma’s House is billed as a special edition and it includes a smattering or decent supplements. First up is a running audio commentary from director Raja Gosnell and producer David Friendly. In general, this was a solidly informative track but not one that strongly piqued my interest. Both men participate to a fairly even degree, and they seem genial and involved in the proceedings. They relate details on a nice variety of subjects; from concerns about make-up to the reasons behind plot decisions to casting choices, they cover the creation of the film in a pretty complete manner. Frankly, the commentary contains no overt flaws, but it never fully involved me. Some of this results from my dislike for the movie, but I’ve enjoyed commentaries about bad films in the past, so that doesn’t explain it completely. In any case, if you care to listen to this track, you will find a competent and moderately interesting commentary.

Our first video program is called “Building Big Momma’s House”. This documentary lasts 22 minutes and 20 seconds and provides the usual mix of cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage, and clips from the finished film. Although the tone is clearly promotional in nature, the show manages to present some moderately interesting information. The process used to create the make-up is covered nicely, and the piece features a reasonably breezy and entertaining tone. It’s ultimately fairly forgettable, but I’ve seen much worse examples of this genre.

During the documentary, we see a few brief shots of Martin Lawrence’s make-up test. In the appropriately-named section, we can view this experimental footage in its entirety. For the one minuet and 55 second piece, Martin pretends to host a Big Momma cooking show, and the snippet seemed mildly entertaining to me; if you like the film, you’re more apt to enjoy his witticisms. In any case, I thought this was a nice addition to the DVD.

Next we find two “Deleted Scenes”. The first of these offers an animated opening montage that was abandoned because it made the movie start with too light a tone. Then we get a “Prison Sequence” which left the film because it created too dark an atmosphere. The animated piece lasts for 67 seconds, while the prison footage runs for 65 seconds. Both can be viewed with or without commentary from Gosnell, who explains more fully why the scenes were removed.

In the “Outtake/Blooper Reel”, we find six minutes and 18 seconds of the usual goofs and gags. Actually, these clips aren’t tremendously typical since they feature a lot of improvisation from Lawrence; that component sets them apart from the usual wacky flubs. Not that Lawrence’s ad-libs seemed terribly amusing, though Nia Long appeared highly entertained; virtually every one of Lawrence’s lines receives an ultra-enthusiastic - and annoying - response from his sexy co-star. Anyway, although I didn’t much care for these bits, I will acknowledge they’re a step-up from the fluff we normally find and fans of BMH will likely enjoy them.

This DVD includes two music videos. We get one clip for Lil’ Bow Wow’s “Bounce With Me” and another for “I’ve Got to Have It” by Jermaine Dupri featuring NAS and Monica. Frankly, Lil’ Bow Wow is one of the more annoying rappers I’ve seen in a while, mainly because he’s a pre-teen (or so) kid; I guess some people like this gimmick, but I find it to be insanely grating. LBW does nothing to endear himself in his song, which is nothing more than the usual “I rule and I’m gonna have all the babes and money!” blather so typical of rap songs. The video isn’t as explicit as usual, but it follows those same lines.

For a further example of the genre, check out the clip for “I’ve Got to Have It”. The song concerns getting a) lots of money and b) lots of hot women, and the video essentially supports those concepts. Do people really still enjoy this nonsense? I sure don’t, and nothing about these videos redeemed themselves for me.

A few additional features round out the DVD. We get the original theatrical trailer for BMH plus three TV spots. In addition, a video advertisement for the upcoming release of Me, Myself and Irene appears. Odd note: the tag line for the film reads “from gentle to mentle”. Was that misspelling intentional or just a mistake for this ad? Apparently the latter is true; I found a scan of the poster, and it’s spelled correctly there.

Frankly, that question stimulated me more than anything I saw in Big Momma’s House. The movie is a simply atrocious compendium of crude and unfunny gags that never even remotely seemed entertaining. The DVD offers fairly solid picture and sound plus a nice batch of extras. Although it’s another strong DVD from Fox, I can’t recommend this disc just because the movie itself is so bad. If you already know you like the film, go for it; you’ll be pleased with the package, Otherwise skip this clunker.

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